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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 02:13 GMT 03:13 UK
Royal revels to mark King's marriage
Moroccan men carrying gifts
Gifts were brought for the royal couple

The festivities to mark the king's marriage began with the Royal Guard, mounted on horseback and in white robes and turbans.

They led a procession from one of the old gates in the city walls, past the crowds lining the central streets, and into the grounds of the Royal Palace.

King Mohamed 6th
Only the king watched the parade. His bride was indoors
There, the king sat on a throne under a canopy, while VIPs and foreign dignitaries sat alongside under tents.

A succession of groups paraded before the king, including representatives of all the tribal regions of Morocco, some of whom danced or played musical instruments.

Men in traditional dress bore huge covered platters on their heads, filled with delicacies like dates, sandalwood, and perfume, to be presented to the king's bride.

She, however, was not to be seen. The 24-year-old computer engineer Salma Bennani would have been indoors having her hands and feet decorated with brown henna dye as is the tradition for brides.

Mass wedding

Two hundred other couples from around the country were invited to get married on the same day as the royal couple's celebrations.


She's young, lively, beautiful, and above all, one of us

Owataf Errachidi of the new bride
One bride, Owataf Errachidi, said she was very excited to be part of it all. "We could have had a family wedding, but this way we'll be part of a big occasion," she said.

"We'd never get another chance like it - to see the king, the royal family, and all the guests from abroad - it's very special."

Owataf met the Princess once when she came into her boutique. "She's young, lively, beautiful, and above all, one of us. We hope she'll be in the style of Princess Rania of Jordan," she said.

"Before in Morocco, kings' wives were veiled women we rarely saw, but Princess Salma is young. She can go out in public and talk to people. It's a good start for the king and for Morocco."

New era

Like Owataf, many Moroccans are pinning their hopes on the young king bringing a new era of openness, modernity and prosperity to Morocco, after the repressive reign of his father Hassan II.

Former US President Bill Clinton and his daughter
Bill Clinton and his daughter were among the wedding guests
But critics are disappointed with what they say is a lack of real progress in the three years since Mohamed VI came to the throne, with little improvement in social conditions or democracy.

The king, surrounded by a powerful elite of royal advisers and the military, still holds much of the power in the country, they say, while parliament is weak.

But whether they see the wedding as a symbol of hope or merely a show, for most Moroccans it is a party - and one that will go on for several days, with displays of traditional dance, music and horsemanship taking place in and around the capital.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Juliet Gilkes
"The marriage symbolises a new era of openess in Morocco"
See also:

22 Mar 02 | Africa
14 Oct 01 | Africa
18 Mar 02 | Business
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